There are many signs of potential danger and if you know what you are looking for you can spot these signs to prepare yourself and even defuse the situation before it escalates. I am going to take you through some signs you will be able to spot that will warn you of a potential conflict in the workplace.

For this I am going to use a scenario of a reception desk as the reception is a usual first point of contact although these signs could be put in any workplace.

Approach – Body language is something that you can detect before someone has even approached you or spoken to you, it is very important to know what to look for with body language as this is something people cannot control easily. Using a reception as an example when someone enters the area there are certain traits you can look for; are they –

  • Are they agitated? If someone is angry the adrenaline in their body will be pumping causing them to be restless and fidgety.
  • Looking around the area with purpose i.e. not just daydreaming. This is usually a sign they are looking for exits or witnesses.
  • Do they move towards you quickly? The adrenaline in their bodies will cause them to want them to release their anger so they will usually make a bee line for you.
  • Are they hanging back? If there are other people in the area they will want them to leave before they attack you so there are no witnesses so they will busy themselves or hang back until the area is clear.
  • Are they staring at others? If there are other people in the area they may use a staring tactic to judge if they would ‘join in’ to defend you or raise an alarm.

When they do get to your desk there are other signs you will be able to see that will warn you of their intentions combining their body and spoken language. As no doubt they will speak to you first we will start with that.

Speech – The type of language is as much an indicator as they way in which it is said, the perpetrator will want to use dehumanizing language in order to reduce your confidence. When someone is in a high stress situation the body goes into ‘fight or flight’ the blood from the frontal lobe of the brain (which develops over time in adulthood) goes to the reptilian part of the brain (which is formed in childhood) so their language becomes more childlike. The way to detect this is the they will usually use short sentences or single syllables such as ‘so’ and ‘what’ they will usually swear and repeat themselves a lot and will be incapable of listening to you. You will find that if you talk to them in the way any adult would talk to another adult they will not be able to process it in the way they normally would. Often misunderstanding you or simply not hearing you at all as in high stress situations listening is diminished.

Body Language – As they are now closer to you and you are not distracted by anyone else you will be able to see certain body language easily, if you are behind a desk however you may have to look closer for other signs as the desk may obscure your view. The first thing to see is the face of the perpetrator, in ‘fight or flight’ the blood will drain from their face to go to their legs so they may be a lot redder in their face at first which is a warning sign (the body preparing to transfer the blood) and then a lot paler (the blood has left the face) which is a danger sign. They will use the stare tactic on you to intimidate often their eye will be wide exaggerating their stare and this will depersonalize you making it easier for them to attack you. Their hands and fists may be clenched and they may be leaning forwards in order to get into your personal space. Watch for their posture, they will stand tall to intimidate and they may move their hips and feet so they are apart with one foot in front of the other. This is to give them the right stance for a powerful attack like a golfer taking a shot the power comes from the body position to maximise the force of their swing. They also intimidate by sticking their chest out, moving their neck in a ‘henpecking’ motion, their intention is for you as a target to freeze to make it easier for them – moving targets are always more difficult.

So there are the signs you will see but never forget the power of your intuition. As human beings we are designed like animals to sense potential danger. Your intuition is a powerful thing and you must learn to rely on it, yes you may be wrong at times however it is always better to be prepared and wrong than brushing it aside and being wrong.

Next time I will tell you how to react to this sort of situation in the right way.